We are told that 23 different flavors go into Dr Pepper, though of course we are not told what those flavors might be. (This list seems as plausible as any, though the home office will not comment, because of course they won't.) Various folks would have you believe that there's something magical or arcane or something about the number 23, perhaps because 2/3 = .666.... For that matter, Jim Carrey (in 2007) starred in a film called The Number 23, in which his character's life seems to be inextricably bound up with those two dread digits. And in case you didn't get it, this is the last title card: Be sure your sin will find you out. — Numbers 32:23.

Some people have been obsessed with 23 for a long time. Robert Anton Wilson, in the Fortean Times, passed along this story:

I first heard of the 23 enigma from William S Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark's ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another Captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23.

Which is not to say that Wilson was exactly a convert to this way of thinking; if you're sufficiently clever, he once said, you could find numerological significance just about anywhere. Still, he flogged 23 for all it was worth in the Illuminatus! Trilogy, and who can blame him?

One of my favorite bar bets (last used when I was, um, twenty-three) goes like this: "How many people have to be in the same room for the probability that two have the same birthday to exceed 50 percent?" Unintuitively enough, the answer is 23, and one night I did all the math just to prove it to myself.

The first album by Tristan Prettyman (born 23 May 1982) was titled twentythree. It was released in 2005, the year she turned 23. Wikipedia lists over a dozen songs with 23 in the title, including a chamber piece by John Cage, scored for 13 violins, five violas and five cellos. And for some reason, much of The Big Lebowski takes place in a bowling alley, beside lane 23.

Oh, and this Web site went up on 9 April 1996, a mere twenty-three years ago today.

The Vent

  9 April 2019

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